Pay your dog with food

White German Shepherd, dog tracking, AKC tracking

Kole, White German Shepherd learning to track

A tracking student of Michigan Dog Trainer asked how to increase their dog’s drive to stay to the real track and not become distracted by the environment. One of the simplest ways is to “track often and only feed on the track.” On the days the dog tracks (whether this means every day or 3-4 times per week), the dog should only get its food by working the track. On the days the dog doesn’t track, the dog can earn its food by doing obedience, agility, or learning tricks.  Therefore, all these activities are rewarding to the dog and the dog is never starved or food withheld. The food is simply paired with the desired activity you want to teach your dog.

The student asked if the dog would get hungry.  Yes exactly, the dog will be hungry and motivated to work the track; but no, the dog won’t be starving afterwards because the dog earned its daily allowance of food on the track or by doing other activities as opposed to getting it for free in a bowl.

The student then said, “but it seems cruel to make him work for his food.” Two questions were then posed to the student, “do you work for a living and/or maintain a household or does someone pay for everything you do, everywhere you go, all the food you eat, all the clothes you buy, and all the toys you buy for free?”  She replied, “of course I work for a living.”

The second question posed to the student was, “would you like to be paid for things that you enjoy doing?” The reply again, “yes of course!” Well it is the same for the dog.  He enjoys tracking and by feeding him on the track, he is self rewarding himself for something that he enjoys doing anyway.  What could be better than to be paid for a pleasurable activity?! Since, it is self rewarding it builds his drive for staying on the track.

Over time, the amount of food left on the track is reduced so that at some point the dog is able to work the track with food only left at the end or eventually without food at all.  At that point, you give food for the dog in learning other new activities because it has been reduced or removed from the track.

Whether it is to learn the sport of tracking or obedience, agility, rally etc. or good home manners; the same technique can be applied.  Pair the new activity with your dog’s own food as rewards.  In very distracting environments, such as a group dog training class, one might instead use tasty dog treats the dog doesn’t normally receive to deal with the increased level of distractions. However, for home manners and other less distracting environments, the dog can be taught to work and be paid by his own food. This is healthier for the dog and easier on your pocket-book than buying unhealthy dog treats.

To teach dog new learning activities, pair it with your dog’s food. An easy way to do this is to measure out a weekly’s serving of dog food in 7 zip lock bags, one for each day. Then on Monday, you work from the Monday bag and if more than one person is training the dog, the serving does not have to be used all in one training session.  The first person simply uses what is needed for the earlier session and the second person comes home from work and uses the remaining part of Monday’s bag for reinforcing good behavior or learning new activities later in the day. This way the dog receives the “just right” amount of food for the day, not too much and not too little.

Once your dog catches on, reduce and eventually remove the food reward from that exercise and substitute it with other rewards such as toys, balls and/or verbal/physical praise. Then when teaching another new activity repeat the pay process as stated above. Your dog will then become a willing and motivated worker doing a job he or she enjoys.

Contact the Michigan Dog Trainer to resolve your dog’s behavior problems or learn new awesome adventures with your dog.

About Michael Burkey

Michael Burkey is a professional dog trainer, behaviorist and owner of MichiganDogTrainer.com, a highly successful dog training company whose aim is to promote peaceful relationships between pets and families. Additionally, he is an expert trial witness, certified Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluator for the American Kennel Club (AKC), former Police K9 Handler, Search and Rescue (SAR) K9 Training Director and SAR K9 Handler, obedience and rally competitor and social worker. Dog training is a complex science and art requiring knowledge of behavioral science and learning. You can rely on Michael's experience, teaching methods, and integrity. He can be contacted at info@MichiganDogTrainer.com or 734-634-4152.
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